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The art of persuasion

Last Sunday, I was at Addenbrookes Hospital in Cambridge for the day. In the Food Court, which is a bit of a living tribute to 1990s motorway service stations, there’s a Burger King. As a member of the metropolitan media elite, I’d already wolfed my quinoa and birdseed granary roll from M&S, but my brother-in-law isn’t a ponce, and opted for a burger.

So far, so good – until he asked for a Coke to go with it, and was told he couldn’t have one. He was, however, able to enjoy a Coke Zero, whatever that is, or a Diet Coke. Apparently, this was because of “a hospital policy promoting healthy options”. It’s fair to say that my brother was as bemused as he was disappointed, but the endorphin-rush provided by the calorific content of his Whopper with cheese provided ample consolation.

After pondering the contorted piece of thinking that stipulated no sugar at a saturated fat concession, I thought about the various ways in which society and the state has tried to regulate our intake of things that may or may not be bad for you, depending on which decade you find yourself living in.

At present, as I understand it, sugar = bad. Fat can be good, or bad, but margarine, which was touted as the healthy alternative to butter (bad) is now bad itself (good). Processed meat is bad, and processed red meat (bacon) is especially bad. White meat is good, unless it’s a turkey twizzler, cigarettes are very bad and hard drugs are still illegal. But alcohol and gambling are good for you.

I may be getting some mixed signals here.

In the last few years, sugar has become public enemy number one, and there’s now talk of stopping under 16s buying energy drinks. However, I much preferred the days when the government would chuck a couple of million quid at the brightest and best agencies in London and ask for TV commercials encouraging people to alter their behaviour rather than banning things. I’m not a libertarian, but I am a believer in the wisdom of old English aphorisms, and if there’s a wiser piece of advice than “everything is alright in moderation” then I’ve yet to come across it.

There may be evidence to the contrary, but I’m pretty certain that the excellent anti-drink driving campaigns of the 80s and 90s ensured that a few generations were brought up knowing that such behaviour was unacceptable, with similar results for smoking, too.

Sugar, in excess, is bad for you. Pretty much in the way that anything in excess is bad for you. A double whammy of pressure on producers and a public information campaign would, I am sure, have the desired effect. But banning Coca Cola at a Burger King? The world’s gone mad.

 

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